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Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.

We’ll soon have 150,000 U.S. troops stuck in the ever-expanding Iraqi quagmire, a number that will probably grow even larger before Iraq holds elections presently scheduled for the end of January ’05.

Maintaining such a force is a logistical and personnel nightmare for every grunt in Iraq. And according to several Pentagon number crunchers, it’s also driving the top brass bonkers.

Meanwhile the insurgents continue cutting our supply lines and whacking our fighting platoons and supporters, who attrit daily as soldiers and Marines fall to enemy shots, sickness or accidents. Empty platoons lose fights, so these casualties have to be replaced ASAP.

Since this tragic war kicked off in March 2003, the United States has evacuated an estimated 50,000 KIA, WIA and non-battle casualties from Iraq back to the States – leaving 50,000 slots that have had to be filled.

The job of finding fresh bodies to keep our units topped off falls mainly to the Army Recruiting Command. But the “making-quota” jazz put out by the Recruiting Command and the Pentagon to hype their billion-dollar recruiting effort, with its huge TV expenditure and big expansion of recruiters during the past year, is pure unadulterated spin. Not that this is anything new. The Command has a sorry reputation for using smoke and mirrors to cover up poor performance.

“Hack, here’s a snapshot of how little of our first-quarter mission has been achieved,” says an Army recruiter. “Look at it from a perspective of a business releasing quarterly earnings information. To keep unit manning levels up out in the field, especially in Iraq, there’s no question our recruiting mission is in serious trouble.

“These are totals for the 41 USAREC (Recruiting Command) Battalions, so these stats represent the USAREC mission accomplishment:

“Regular Army Volume (all RA contracts):

“Mission: 25,322

“Achieved: 12,703 (50.17 percent)

“Army Reserve Volume:

“Mission: 7,373

“Achieved: 3,206 (43.48 percent).”

The Army National Guard is faring no better. A Guard retention NCO says: “The word is out on the streets of Washington, D.C. ‘Do not join the Guard.’ I see these words echoing right across the U.S.A.”

By the end of this recruiting year, the Regular Army, Reserves and Guard could fall short more than 50 percent of its projected requirement, or about 60,000 new soldiers. And according to many recruiters, quality recruits are giving way to mental midgets who have a hard time telling their left foot from their right.

Shades of our last years in Vietnam.

“The bottom line is that Recruiting Command is in trouble,” says another recruiter with almost 30 years of service. “The Army has re-instituted ‘stop loss,’ which is basically a backdoor draft. They’re stopping people from retiring or completing their enlistment and leaving the Army. They do this fairly often, mostly in August and September, depending upon how far behind they believe they’ll be at the end of September.

“I believe the Army will have to drastically change what they offer to enlistees to overcome what’s happening in Iraq. The war is ugly, and not many kids want to enlist to be blown up.”

Moms and dads are outraged about desperate Army recruiters on a relentless campaign to sign up their teenagers. High-school kids are actually running away from recruiters like they were George Romero’s living dead.

“Recruiters have called my son a minimum of 20 times in the two years since he finished high school,” a dad reports. “The phone calls usually come in clusters. I answered five calls in a two- or three-week span. Each time a recruiter calls, he receives the same polite, respectful response from me or my son … no interest, and please take the name off the list. When asked why the name hasn’t been removed, excuses are made. While recruiters are brief with me, when my son is on the phone, the sales tactics are clever, prolonged and very high-pressure.

“I took the latest recruiting call. This time I also called the supervisor at the local Army recruiting office, who’s promised to take his name off the list. She made excuses for the repeated calls despite the fact that five calls were on her watch.”

Unless a miracle happens and the new Iraqi security force decides to stop running and start fighting, we’ll be in Iraq for a long time. Most likely with a draftee force.

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